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In-Depth Jobs

Career Volume-31

Career in Polar Science
An emerging research field

Dr. Pawan Kumar ‘Bharti’

 Polar science has the potential to benefit humanity, help sustainable use of resources, and protect the planet and generate economic and social impact.  Research in the Polar Regions is important and relevant to present day needs. The Polar Regions may be at the ends of the Earth but what happens there affects us all. Understanding how the Earth works, and in particular how it is responding to ever-increasing human pressure, is one of greatest challenges of science.

Indian Antarctic Programme (IAP)

The world’s Polar Regions and their contiguous oceans are attracting more interest than ever before. Once regarded as barren, inhospitable places where only explorers go, the north and south Polar Regions have been transformed into high profile sites of scientific research. Be it in understanding the role of the polar realm in modulating the global climate or for studying the ecosystem adaptability and survival under extreme conditions, there has been an increasing interest in the science of the polar realm, over the past two-odd decades. . Realizing the importance of Antarctica as a pedestal for scientific research, India launched the first of its Annual Scientific Expeditions to the Antarctica way back in 1981. This was followed by the country’s successful entry to the realms of Southern Ocean research in 2004 and the Arctic, three years later. To cater to the requirements of the Indian scientists in both the Polar Regions, two stations “Maitri” and “Himadri” have been established to serve as living-cum-research bases in the Antarctic and Arctic respectively. Another permanent Indian research base “Bharati” in Antarctica was commissioned during the summer of 2011-12.

The focus areas of scientific studies in the Arctic and the Antarctic have been largely confined to earth, atmospheric and biological sciences. As regards the studies of the cryosphere, the research initiatives by Indian scientists in the Antarctic comprise monitoring of the glaciers in Dronning Maudland, studies of ice dynamics and energy balance and climatic reconstructions from ice core analyses. Systematic studies of the cryospheric domain of the Arctic are as yet to be initiated. Considering the significance of the polar ice cap and the sea ice in the Polar Regions in modulating, if not driving the global climate, it is proposed to initiate, a major national mission of cryospheric studies of both the Polar Regions as well as of the Himalaya.

Polar scientists make observations and collect data to answer questions about the Arctic (the north polar region) and the Antarctic (the south polar region). These regions are unique and isolated. However, the Earth is a global system, so all regions are related. We can learn a lot about physical science, life science, and Earth/space science when we study the polar regions.

Scientists observe patterns in nature. They use these observations to create models. These models help us explain, understand, and predict our complex, changing environment.

THE ARCTIC (North Pole):

The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost-containing tundra. Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places.

In the summer of 2005, scientists participated in a collaborative effort to explore the frigid depths of the Canada Basin, located in the deepest part of the Arctic Ocean. This expedition is named "The Hidden Ocean" because this part of the Arctic Ocean is covered with sea ice for most of the year and thus difficult to reach.

ANTARCTICA (South Pole):

Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles), it is the fifth-largest continent. For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98 percent of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km (1.2 mi; 6,200 ft) in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Antarctica is a desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm (8 in) along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached -89.2 °C                 (-128.6 °F), though the average for the third quarter (the coldest part of the year) is -63 °C (-81 °F). As of 2016, there are about 135 permanent residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the research stations scattered across the continent. Organisms native to Antarctica include many types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, protista, and certain animals, such as mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation, where it occurs, is tundra.

The Southern Ocean surrounds Antarctica and serves as a connection between the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.  Much of this ocean basin remains unexplord because of its severe climate.  These researchers are learning about the Southern Ocean by investigating the underwater sounds made by moving ice sheets, large baleen whales, and undersea earthquakes and volcanoes.

HIMALAYAS (Third pole):

The Himalayas are a mountain range in Asia separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau.

The Himalayan range is home to the planet's highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The Himalayas include over a hundred mountains exceeding 7,200 metres (23,600 ft) in elevation. By contrast, the highest peak outside Asia – Aconcagua, in the Andes – is 6,961 metres (22,838 ft) tall.

The Himalayas are spread across five countries: Bhutan, India, Nepal, People's Republic of China, and Pakistan, with the first three countries having sovereignty over most of the range. The Himalayan range is bordered on the northwest by the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges, on the north by the Tibetan Plateau, and on the south by the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Some of the world's major rivers, the Indus, the Ganges, and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, rise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to some 600 million people.

Lifted by the subduction of the Indian tectonic plate under the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayan range runs, west-northwest to east-southeast, in an arc 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) long. Its western anchor, Nanga Parbat, lies just south of the northernmost bend of Indus river, its eastern anchor, Namcha Barwa, just west of the great bend of the Tsangpo river. The range varies in width from 400 kilometres (250 mi) in the west to 150 kilometres (93 mi) in the east. Recently, a lab (namely Himansh) has been established by Ministry of Earth Sciences in Himalaya for advanced research works.

Nowadays, all three the poles are very much important and acting as a references workplace for earth science related research work.


Polar Science is very important, as people are concerned about the core subject(s) related to Earth ecosystem and processes.

Traditionally, job opportunities in Polar Sciences include positions in academia, government, environmental consulting.  Many of these industries have an aging work force and are engaged in a long term hiring trend to replace retirees. Job opportunities in the field of polar science are excellent with the right educational preparation. Polar scientists explore the Poles of Earth and its processes/phenomenon.

Earth science is a broad field, and career tracks are generally determined by specialization and level of education obtained. Earth scientists can seek work in hydrology, soil science, meteorology, oil and gas extraction or geology. Employers include government agencies, consulting firms, environmental management services and the oil and gas industry. A sampling of job titles related to Polar science may be Geoscientist, Geologist, Meteorologist, Geophysicist, Geo hydrologist, Environmentalist, etc.

Higher studies/research work may provide global opportunities in various National/International missions like, Himalayan studies, South Ocean drilling program, Arctic Mission, Antarctic Missions.  

Research Areas:

Major research areas are:

Geology, Meteorology, Snow study, Geomagnetism, Environmental Sciences, Wildlife biology, Oceanography, Ozone depletion, Climate change, etc.

Regulatory Authorities:

International regulatory authorities are ATS, COMNAP, IAATO, while in India only NCAOR (MoES) is regulating and felicitating the all concerns.

Basic Eligibility:

Polar science is a field that requires candidates from various interdisciplinary scientific branches. Science or even social science graduates can make career in areas of their interest. Various degree/diploma courses are conducted by various universities/institutions in India and abroad. One can pursue different courses/degree in the field of Sciences. The eligibility criteria are given below:

*B.Sc.- in General Science or Biological Sciences, Natural Science

*M.Sc.- in Environment, Chemistry, Geology or equivalent

*M. Tech.- in Remote Sensing & GIS, Geo informatics, Environmental Engineering

*PG Dip. - in Remote Sensing & GIS, Geo informatics, Pollution control

*Ph.D. - in Environmental Science, Earth Sciences or equivalent


1. Government Institutions/ Universities:

A lot of governmental institutions are participating regularly in the Indian expeditions to Antarctica and Arctic. Few of these are: GSI, IMD, NIO, SOI, DRDO, BRO, ISRO, NBPGR, CCMB, INCOIS, NCAOR, DU, BU, RMLU, etc.

2. Private Institutions/Universities:

Apart from governmental organizations, a few selected private organizations are also taking interests and active participations in Indian Polar science. Top examples are Shriram Institute, Delhi and Amity University, Noida

3. Students:

Students can also participate in Indian polar science program and can visit even Antarctica under a valid and capable guide. NCAOR always encourages student participations in these programmes.

Scope and career perspectives:

There are many institutions/consultancies, where one can build one’s career and/or continue the study/research work also.

After pursuing a suitable degree or diploma or PG in Sciences from a approved university or similar institutions, the candidate can choose any of the given options as per his qualification, interest and potential. The most popular occupations for professional career are given below:

*Scientist/Analyst - in Government or private Research Institute/ Organiz-ations/Testing laboratories

*Lecturer/Professor- in University or academic institution

*Scientific Officer – in scientific governmental organizations or NGOs


*EC or FAE -  for EIA studies in consultancies

*Assistant Manager - in corporate various groups

*Consultant – in consultancy, NGOs or similar firms

*Writer/author – for various publishing houses or freelance

*Leader or Station Commander- For particular expeditions

Apart from these, candidate can make his/her career in many routine announced jobs/posts. Candidate can start his career in the field of Polar science and can participate in Antarctica, Arctic or Himalayan Expedition.


(The author is an environmentalist & freelance writer. e-mail: gurupawanbharti@rediffmail.com)